Bodies in Doubt

Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex by Elizabeth Reis discusses how the views and opinions of patients, physicians and society have changed over time. Reis focuses more on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in order to gain a better understanding of how intersex has been understood over such a long period of time. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century have a very different mindset regarding intersex and transgender identities. In the early twentieth century, operations were performed to redirect the body towards heterosexual performance, or to “un-sex” the body as an ultimate solution. Techniques developed to include new factors, gonadal tissue, hormone levels and then chromosomes, moving into what she terms the ‘era of idiosyncrasy’ of intersex treatment. Reis states that doctors remain committed in their practices to heterosexual marriage, ‘to surgery devoted to guaranteeing the union of two differently sexed bodies by the creation of “perfected” men and women’ (p. 85). In the 1920s and 1930s, ‘doctors experimented on all patients’ bodies’ (p. 91) and that surgical techniques still had dismal success rates.

I was able to relate to this book on a very different level than most of the other book’s we’ve read this semester. I currently have a sibling who identifies as non binary or genderfluid, and I can’t even begin to fathom the thought of them having to deal with the issues many faced before today. Reis brings such a positive light to the topic and focuses more on educating rather than just stating facts and moving on, which is really important because there’s a lot to learn when it comes to one being intersex.